DezBaa Damon - Staff Dentist, Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation Dental Clinic
7:00am: My day begins at 7:00 am, get up and get ready for the day at the clinic. I get to the clinic and start seeing patients at 8:15am. The clinic is owned and operated by the Native Corporation and supported by the Indian Health Service (IHS). I see emergency patients, coming from villages five to a hundred miles away, for about the first hour that I’m at the Clinic. (It’s not uncommon to have 15 emergency patients waiting – some patients wait up to eight hours before they are able to be seen.)
The emergency patients are prioritized by their level of tooth pain. The staff size fluctuates in the clinic, some days there are only two dentists or just one available- because of the shortage of dentists, the waits to be seen on an emergency basis are very long. As a staff dentist, I provide general dentistry to clinic patients (pedo to geriatric) and travel to near-by villages for 10-14 weeks annually.
9:15-11:45am: See my list of patients. Patients that have had a comprehensive exam and a treatment plan in place. A wide variety of services such as fillings, extractions, root canals, bridges and other services are completed.
11:45am-12:30pm: Complete a comprehensive exam therefore adding a new patient to my record of patients. It sometimes can take several months for a patient to obtain an exam appt. There are usually only 3 appointments available every Monday – first call, first served. Can be very frustrating for the patients, since many complain that they have called for several months or years, many say they give up after a while.
12:30pm-1:30pm: Usually during the lunch I complete paperwork, such as charts, working on projects, checking emails, etc.
1:30pm-5:15pm: See additional scheduled patients. If there’s a “no show” (broken appointment), then I’m able to fit in an emergency patient. Many patients are referred from neighboring villages by health aides who work in the villages. Usually some time is spent reviewing 15-20 referrals from the health aides for dental care and routing appropriately.
5:15pm-6:15pm: Complete the day’s charting and maybe even the day before that depending on how behind I get.
After work, I like to take advantage of the many Alaskan Native cultural events. In the winter there is sled dog racing, Kuskokwim 300, and in the spring there is a dance festival, Camai. I also enjoy camping, fishing and going for walks.
Traveling to local villages: As part of my position, I travel by plane to villages, setup my equipment and then arrange my schedule to start providing dental services much needed by the people of the community. I usually start seeing my patients at 9:00am and then quit at 12:00pm for a lunch break. I then start again at 1:00pm, take a hour break at 5:00pm and then finish the night with my last patient being seen at 9:00pm. The goal is to see as many patients as possible.
Screening and providing preventive care to children in schools is a priority of the village visits. Much time is spent teaching and educating about proper oral care, nutrition, dangers of sugary soft drinks. To help are travelling dentists, TDY, and health aides, they reach out to people that we may not get to during the year.
It has been a goal of mine to work with those most in need-particularly working with American Indians and Alaskan Natives. Currently, I’m in my second year here at the clinic since graduating from dental school and I have been operating under a two year contract and I am planning to renew my contract.
I first arrived at Bethel as an extern and this was when I made the decision to begin my dental career at the clinic. From other dental friends I’ve heard that a significant difference between our clinic and other clinics is that we see many more emergency patients. Most days each dentist sees about 4-5 emergency patients in addition to their scheduled patients. Also my work day is probably longer than most dentists too.
My interest in dentistry began in elementary school and was aided by my pediatric dentist who answered my questions and allowed me to shadow/volunteer while in middle school. I made the decision to pursue dentistry while I was in college and was helped by several mentors. It was a mentor who helped me make the decision to begin my career working with the Alaskan Native population. In the future I plan to travel back to my homeland and provide my services for the Navajo community.
What advice would you give yourself if you could go back in time to before you started dental school? Don’t hold yourself back. Don’t be afraid to take advantage of opportunities to get involved in whatever interests you such as research, instructing or other areas.
Dr. Damon offers the following advice to anyone thinking about dentistry as a career choice: Think about what would make them happy- and what a career choice would allow one to do. Dentistry’s advantages include an opportunity to work with your hands, flexibility in terms of work/life balance, travel possibilities and regular hours (not on call all the time).
Note: There are many opportunities to work with American Indian and Native Alaskan populations through the Indian Health Service (IHS) at http://www.dental.ihs.gov/careers.cfm and information about loan repayment programs at http://www.dental.ihs.gov/loan.cfm.
For more information on the need for additional American Indian dentists see Be A Dentist.